In February, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn led a delegation of senators on a tour of the Rio Grande Valley to view border security operations. He is pictured above with Sen. Thom Tillis speaking with a U.S. Border Patrol Agent on a boat on the Rio Grande River.

ALAMO, RGV – U.S. Sen. John Cornyn says local leaders should be consulted when it comes to construction of a border wall.

There has been dismay by some Rio Grande Valley officials and eco-tourism leaders about plans to build a wall through the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo.

“I’ve always believed it was imperative for federal officials to consult with local leaders on what the appropriate solutions might look like and it may well be rather than a physical wall in some of these places, that technology will allow the Border Patrol to do their job just as effectively,” Cornyn said, responding to a question from the Rio Grande Guardian in a conference call.

“That’s why I would stress the importance of a comprehensive plan that includes more than just a wall or fence or infrastructure, but includes technology and people because obviously if somebody is coming across then you’re going to need a Border Patrol agent there to detain them.”

Cornyn said a good example of proper consultation can be seen in Hidalgo County.

“An example of a win-win on consultation with local border officials was when the levee walls were constructed in Hidalgo County. The County passed a bond election after consulting with Border Patrol about what they needed in key locations. Money was then spent to build a dual-purpose structure which provided the Border Patrol the infrastructure they wanted and needed as well as improve the levees to help the local community. That’s why consultation is so important and why I would hope that the administration would work with local officials and come up with a tailored solution so to speak, perhaps involving technology that would not be any more disruptive than necessary.”

Sierra Club’s stance

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo, Texas.

Scott Nicol, of the Sierra Club Borderlands Campaign, spoke about the building of a border wall at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo during a national press conference call organized by U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona.

“The border walls that currently stand have inflicted severe environmental damage, fragmenting endangered species’ habitat, acting as dams and causing flooding, and tearing through wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, and national monuments,” Nicol said. “Trump’s border walls will target the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, home to endangered ocelots and at the heart of a local ecotourism industry worth $463 million per year. We must not destroy wildlife refuges, condemn family farms, and waste billions of dollars to build more useless border walls.”

Scott Nicol

Nicol believes the border walls that were constructed ten years ago have inflicted tremendous environmental damage in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California. The walls have fragmented endangered species habitats, acted as dams, he said, and, in some instances, have been washed away due to flooding. He said they have also torn through wildlife refuges, through wilderness areas and national monuments.

Nicol fears the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge will be a top priority for the Department of Homeland Security as it plans to build more border walls. He said that at the Refuge, the wall would only be 2.9 miles wide wall in the middle of a ten-mile wide gap. He said this would be the equivalent of “dropping a three-foot wide stone into a ten-foot wide stream,” said Nicol.

“The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is home to the endangered ocelot. It is the heart of our local ecotourism that is work $463 million per year,” Nicol said. “There is no rational reason to destroy wildlife refuges, to condemn family farms and to waste billions of dollars to build more utterly useless border walls.”

U.S. Rep. Gallego, who called the conference call, said the decision to add border wall funding to the must-pass appropriations bill was underhand. “Once again, House Republicans plan to employ a deceptive legislative gimmick in order to avoid a clean up or down vote on funding for the border wall. That’s simply wrong. On such a momentous issue, the American people deserve to know where their elected representatives stand. We’re now seeing the ridiculous lengths to which Republicans will go in order to fund a dumb wall that we don’t need and can’t afford,” Gallego said.

Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, was also on the national news conference call.

“The dramatic increase of border enforcement and militarization in border communities has come at the expense of upgrading our crumbling ports of entry. The border region is in desperate need of investments that revitalize not militarize our communities. Border walls don’t fix anything and don’t help anyone, but better infrastructure and more inspectors at our busy ports of entry do,” Ramirez said.

“Border Patrol is the largest law enforcement agency in the country and has grown at an alarmingly fast rate without commensurate measures for accountability and oversight. Border communities strongly urge Congress to invest our tax-payer dollars to modernize our land ports and not in militarizing our communities.”

Cuellar speaks out against border wall funding

In a speech on the House floor, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar spoke out against border wall funding.

On Wednesday, in the House Chamber, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar slammed a decision to add border wall funding to the must-pass appropriation.

“We who live on the Border, we understand. We believe that border security is strong, sensible, common sense and effective for the border. The Wall is a 14th Century solution to a 21st Century Challenge. The border wall is not the right solution for border security,” Cuellar said.

Cuellar gave four reasons why this was important.

“No. 1: Private Property Rights. We believe in private property rights. In fact, there are some people for generations have owned land along the border,” he said.

Cuellar told the story of a veteran in his congressional district who buried his father, a World War II veteran, right along the river bank.

“So, if you put a wall, what is he going to do? Once you put the wall up, how is he going to visit the family’s cemetery? What about cattle, livestock, how are they going to have access to water along the river.”

The second reason for not building more border walls in Texas, Cuellar said, is that a natural barrier exists.

“We have the river. Are you going to put a wall on top of this cliff?” Cuellar asked, pointing to an image. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

The third reason for not building a border wall, Cuellar said, is the cost to taxpayers.

“Mexico is not going to pay for this wall. We know the American taxpayer is going to pay for this. $1.6 billion for 74 miles out of the 1,954 miles that we have. That is $21.2 million dollars per mile for this wall. Compared to one million dollars of technology, cameras, sensors, aerostats for border security,” Cuellar said.

“$1.6 billion? All I need is $100, buy myself a good ladder and we will take care of that wall. Again, we have got to be smart about border security.”

The fourth reason for not building a wall is concerns over the environment, Cuellar argued.

“What about the 40 percent of the 11, 12, million people that we have here that did visa overstays? You can put up the biggest wall but people are going to fly, or drive across a bridge, or get a boat into Houston and just stay over their time,” Cuellar said.

“What about a Cap analysis so we know the needs that we have. Mexico is an ally. It is not an enemy. Every day we have $1.3 billion of trade with our friends to the south. That is over $100 million of trade every single minute. Six million jobs that we have because of the trade we have with our friends to the south.”

Cuellar said the border region is not a dangerous place to live.

“We need strong, common sense, border security and I know this because I live on the border, I drink the water, I breathe the air. I understand this very well. The border area is very safe,” he said.

Citing FBI stats, Cuellar said the murder rate in my home town of Laredo is three murders per 100,000. Here in Washington, D.C., it is 24.5 murders per 100,000. So, if you want to talk about dangerous. This is the most dangerous thing about my job. So, the wall is a 14th Century solution to a 21st Century problem. I ask you to vote no on the border wall.

Editor’s Note: Reporter Steve Taylor contributed to this story from Alamo, Texas.